Summer movie preview

A look ahead at the season's hottest films

Summer movie preview
Twentieth Century Fox
Prometheus

In a movie season worshipped for its CGI-boosted, spiritually bankrupt juvenilia, it's heartening to know that filmmakers still create — and maybe more significantly, that studios still distribute — summer entertainment for grown-ups. Not that those buckets of popcorn are going to empty themselves, but who needs to be reminded of yet another comic-book reboot (The Amazing Spider-Man), unasked-for remake (Total Recall), or Adam Sandler comedy (That's My Boy)? Here are films to watch for in the sweltering months ahead, from thought-provoking indies to  Piranha 3DD. (Opening dates are subject to change, and some limited-release movies may open later in the Twin Cities.)

June 8

Prometheus

Originally conceived as a prequel (but not exactly) to Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi masterpiece Alien, this mega-expensive, futuristic IMAX thriller instead forges an epic new mythos about our intergalactic origins. Following an ancient star map, a quite face-huggable space crew (including captain Idris Elba, archaeologist Noomi Rapace, android Michael Fassbender, and corporate thug Charlize Theron) investigates an extraterrestrial civilization on a distant, terrifying planet. Just don't expect an appearance from Lt. Ripley. (20th Century Fox)

June 13

Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises
Warner Bros.
Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises
Seth Rogen, Michelle Williams in Take This Waltz
Magnolia Pictures
Seth Rogen, Michelle Williams in Take This Waltz
Joseph Gordon-Levitt 
in Premium Rush
Sony Pictures
Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Premium Rush

Marina Abramovi: The Artist Is Present

Named for the Museum of Modern Art retrospective on the Serbian performance-art sensation's four-decade body of work, this doc from director Matthew Akers takes a revealing look at Abramovi's complicated relationships with her audience and former lover/collaborator Ulay. From vintage footage of the now 65-year-old radical's public self-flagellation to 2010's main event — a three-month, stone-faced sitting in front of curious, often obsessive museum-goers — the film warmly and perceptively makes a solid case for asking the question: "Is this art?"  (HBO Documentary Films/Music Box Films)

June 22

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

On Broadway, actor Benjamin Walker already reimagined one U.S. president as an emo rock star in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, so why not play Honest Abe as an ax-wielding abolitionist out to destroy bloodsuckers and slavery? Directed by Timur Bekmambetov and adapted by hot novelist-cum-screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith (Dark Shadows, whose director, Tim Burton, serves as producer here) from his own faux-epistolary mashup, this action-packed "secret life" chronicle promises an undead body count of at least four score. (20th Century Fox)

Brave

A strong-willed young woman and expert archer becomes the talk of her rural kingdom when she takes charge of her own destiny. No, Pixar's latest CG-animated fantasy isn't another version of The Hunger Games, but it does feature the studio's first-ever female protagonist: Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), a flame-haired, 10th-century princess of the Scottish Highlands, whose solo adventure begins after she defies a chauvinistic tradition. Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman. (Disney/Pixar)

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

If Melancholia was too glum in its pre-apocalyptic anxieties, this directorial debut of Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist screenwriter Lorene Scafaria offers an unlikely alternative for those who take the Mayans' predictions seriously: a rom-com! While humanity awaits doomsday by way of an inbound asteroid, a freshly dumped Steve Carell makes an unlikely connection in his neighbor Keira Knightley. Go for it, girl — it's not like you have to worry about commitment issues. (Focus Features)

To Rome With Love

Woody Allen's follow-up to Midnight in Paris — easily his best and biggest hit in over a decade — continues his recent trend of filming in travelogue-friendly, European locales (see Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona). Along with the 76-year-old Allen, this year's Windsor-font-emblazoned ensemble includes Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penélope Cruz, Judy Davis, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, and indie darling Greta Gerwig. (Sony Pictures Classics) 

June 27

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Punching way above his indie-budget weight, director Benh Zeitlin spins a visually rapturous tale — winner of the Grand Jury Prize and Best Cinematography at Sundance 2012 — that sees the lawless Louisiana bayou through the imaginative, often blindly optimistic view of a six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis). Like Where the Wild Things Are as conceived by Terrence Malick, this troubling but tender 16mm opus will permanently stain your brain with its fantastical images. (Fox Searchlight)

June 29

Magic Mike

Just as Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience was more focused on the economics of the high-class escort biz than it was on sexuality, it's impossible to imagine his dramatic comedy about male strippers will just be Striptease with chest grease and "banana hammocks." Based in part on Channing Tatum's experience as a 19-year-old dancer, the film stars the barrel-chested G.I. Joe as the eponymous leading man, with Alex Pettyfer as his protégé, and Matthew McConaughey as a skeezy club owner.  (Warner Bros.)

Take This Waltz

Canadian actress-turned-filmmaker Sarah Polley's sophomore effort behind the camera (following her Oscar-nominated Away from Her) again demonstrates her instincts for sharp, emotionally charged writing and richly developed female protagonists. Happily married to a cookbook-writing goofball (Seth Rogen, never better), Michelle Williams is unprepared for the heat she feels around rickshaw-driving neighbor Luke Kirby. Their eroticism sizzles like the Toronto summer, but Polley's affectionate drama isn't so much about infidelity as it is about life's thorny impossibilities.  (Magnolia Pictures)

July 6

The Queen of Versailles

Lauren Greenfield, the photographer-filmmaker behind such documentary provocations as Thin and Kids + Money, hits the morbidly curious motherlode in this jaw-dropping depiction of the American Dream gone sour. When the billionaire time-share king of Florida and his ex-model wife begin construction on a 90,000-square-foot palace — the largest home in the U.S., including 30 bathrooms, a bowling alley, and baseball diamond — they aren't prepared for the credit crunch to radically shrink their empire. Their post-recession behavior is the stuff of reality-TV nightmares.  (Magnolia Pictures)

Savages

There's no historical profiling or arch sociopolitical conscience in the latest from Oliver Stone, the iconoclast behind JFK and World Trade Center. This brutal crime thriller reminds us that he's also the guy who wrote Scarface. Based on Don Winslow's bestseller, Savages stars Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson as Laguna Beach pot dealers forced to square off against a corrupt DEA agent (John Travolta), a cartel leader (Salma Hayek!), and her enforcer (Benicio Del Toro). (Universal Pictures)

July 13

Ted

Boston slacker Mark Wahlberg might be able to salvage his relationship with long-suffering girlfriend Mila Kunis if he can get his best friend since childhood to move out. Oh, and his friend happens to be a CG-animated, foul-mouthed, bong-smoking, sexually harassing teddy bear (voiced by first-time director Seth McFarlane himself, creator of Family Guy). Patrick Warburton, Giovanni Ribisi, and Joel McHale co-star in this high-concept comedy of arrested development.  (Universal Pictures)

July 20

The Dark Knight Rises

Really, who won't be watching the final act of Christopher Nolan's Caped Crusader trilogy, arguably the high-water mark of superhero cinema? Christian Bale's gravelly voice returns as haunted billionaire Bruce Wayne and his winged alter-ego, now facing two foes of fanboy legend: Anne Hathaway's slinky Catwoman and Tom Hardy's gas-masked juggernaut Bane, who infamously broke Batman's back in the comics. Get off the internet to avoid further spoilers.  (Warner Bros.)

July 27

Klown

Hands down the funniest film of the year, this irreverent Danish comedy plays like a superior, way grosser version of  The Hangover  (and Todd Phillips is producing an American remake!). Discovering that everyone except him knew about his girlfriend's pregnancy, a nebbishy man-child — about to take a canoe trip to an exclusive brothel with his ultra-perverted pal — unwisely kidnaps her young nephew for the ride. From ill-advised threesomes to photographing little-boy penises, they aren't called "gags" for nothing. Directed by Mikkel Nørgaard. (Drafthouse Films)

Killer Joe

In debt to a drug kingpin, Emile Hirsch hires a sociopathic Dallas cop (Matthew McConaughey, already earning career-high praise) to take out his mother for the life insurance policy. Exorcist  director William Friedkin reteams with Pulitzer- and Tony-winning writer Tracy Letts (Bug) for what's been labeled both a sleazy noir-thriller and an eccentric, pitch-black comedy. Either way, you know by its NC-17 rating that this bloody hicksploitation freak-out ain't going easy on its players. (LD Entertainment)

The Watch

Called  Neighborhood Watch  before the Trayvon Martin shooting prompted an essential title change, this profane comedy concerns a quartet of Costco employees and drinking buddies (Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and  Submarine  director Richard Aoyade) who form a crime watch to escape their humdrum suburban existence. Oh yeah, and then they accidentally uncover an alien-invasion plot that only they can thwart to save all of humanity. Directed by Akiva Schaffer.   (20th Century Fox)

August 3

The Bourne Legacy

Whoa, how do you make a Jason Bourne thriller without Matt Damon, or even the Bourne identity? Expanding on novelist Robert Ludlum's universe of top-level espionage, Tony Gilroy, the underrated director of Duplicity and Michael Clayton (and screenwriter on every Bourne flick thus far) brings new hero Jeremy Renner into the fray — along with Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz, and the previous films' Albert Finney and Joan Allen — as another bad-ass CIA operative. (Universal Pictures)

August 10

Red Hook Summer

Do the Right Thing's pizza delivery boy Mookie may make an early cameo, but don't call Spike Lee's ambitious, uncompromising, self-financed, and musically charged return to Brooklyn a sequel. Red Hook Summer is about what happens when "fro-hawked" Atlanta teen Flick (Jules Brown) is dumped on his preacher grandpa Enoch (The Wire's Clarke Peters) in the titular Brooklyn projects for the summer, and the generational and ideological clashes that ensue. (Variance Films)

The Campaign

The mud-slinging political comedy we deserve in this circus of an election year, this broad farce stars Will Ferrell as a long-sitting congressman from North Carolina. His CEO rivals dig up their own untrained Manchurian candidate (a mustachioed Zach Galifianakis) from the local tourism center. Fun fact: Galifianakis's uncle was also a North Carolina congressman, unseated by Jesse Helms in the '70s. Directed by Jay Roach. (Warner Bros.) 

August 17

ParaNorman

The Oscar-nominated animation company behind Coraline presents this stop-motion, 3D comedy-thriller about a spiky-haired misfit (voiced by Let Me In's Kodi Smit-McPhee) with the ability to speak to the dead. Though Norman is unable to win over friends or even his family, his ghost whispering sure comes in handy when his small town is overrun by a plague of zombies. Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell. (Focus Features)

August 24

The Loneliest Planet

Hiking through the otherworldly Caucasus Mountains in the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia, Alex (Gael García Bernal) and his flame-haired fiancée, Nica (Hani Furstenberg), seem like the perfect hipster couple, until a subtle, split-second choice irreversibly cracks the veneer. Director Julia Loktev's marvelous, slow-burning follow-up to her minimalist thriller Day Night Day Night somehow manages to be both audacious and subtle: Awkward silences are deafening, and the wilderness, though wide open, brings on a devastating claustrophobia. (Sundance Selects)

Premium Rush

Anyone who has ever shared the road with a Manhattan bicycle messenger knows that they're a thrill-seeking, possibly suicidal lot. Director David Koepp, who also wrote this season's Men in Black III, gives the Speed treatment to the fixed-gear, no-brakes set in this against-the-clock thriller, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a skilled cyclist whose delivery payload is being hunted by Michael Shannon's homicidal cop. One ill-timed car-door opening and it's all over, roll credits. (Sony Pictures)

August 31

Lawless

Adapted by Australian rock icon and screenwriter Nick Cave (The Proposition) from Matt Bondurant's true-life family tales in his lyrical novel The Wettest County in the World, this Prohibition-era crime drama chronicles the three Bondurant brothers of Franklin County, Virginia (Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, and Jason Clarke), and their fight against outsiders, including gangster Gary Oldman and deputy Guy Pearce, who want a taste of their moonshine bootlegging operation. The ubiquitous Jessica Chastain also stars as Hardy's love interest from the big city. John Hillcoat directs. (The Weinstein Company)

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